The right people have been hired, and everyone is where they’re supposed to be. That level of planning makes the heist in “Ocean’s 8” run fairly smoothly. As for the film itself, similarly curated with care, it gets the job done without ever being one for the record books.
The idea of a spin on the breezy “Ocean’s” capers featuring an all-female cast is a great one, and the crew assembled here represents an octet of terrific screen presences. So terrific, in fact, that it’s hard not to mentally leap to how great the movie could have been while it amiably spins its wheels. It’s not a waste of time, but it does feel like a wasted opportunity.
Take Sandra Bullock: as mastermind Debbie Ocean, who has spent years in jail concocting an intricate scheme to rob the annual Met Gala, she’s brilliantly deadpan in the early scenes, in which she convinces an off-screen parole board member (voiced by Griffin Dunne) that she’s through with crime and ready to work a day job and pay her bills. Soon thereafter, she’s shoplifting half of the Bergdorf Goodman makeup counter before grifting her way into a luxury hotel suite.
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So far, so good. But as soon as Debbie starts assembling the rest of the team, “Ocean’s 8” relegates Bullock into the straight-man role, standing back as her fellow castmates get their moment in the spotlight. (The film does the same to Cate Blanchett, playing Debbie’s second-in-command Lou.)
And for the other six leads, those moments in the spotlight are fleeting, leaving us wanting more. Like the recent “Book Club,” “Ocean’s 8” is at its sharpest when its talented cast gets to sit down and just bounce off each other, but both films underserve those moments.
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Debbie’s scheme involves the participation of a down-on-her-luck fashion designer (Helena Bonham-Carter), a hacker (Rihanna), a pickpocket (rapper Awkwafina), a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), and a thief-turned-soccer-mom (Sarah Paulson). And if major movie star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) gets stuck in the middle of Debbie’s machinations, well, too bad for her.
(There’s also a quartet of veteran actresses who come aboard toward the end of the scheme, and in a just world, they’d get a spin-off of their own.)
The actresses dig into the material as much they’re allowed, and while the screenplay by Olivia Milch and director Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”) doesn’t give any of them enough to do, everyone in the ensemble manages to carve out a moment or two of deft comedy, whether it’s minimalist banter or broad slapstick.
The MVP winds up being Anne Hathaway, trolling the detractors who think she’s an irritating It Girl by playing, brilliantly, an irritating It Girl. (And if you aren’t taking Hathaway seriously as an actress, go back and watch last year’s underrated “Colossal.”)
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Ross — and seriously, they hired a man to direct this? — definitely nails the mechanics of the heist and its aftermath, and he and editor Juliette Welfling (“Dheepan”) keep it all breezing along, even if “Ocean’s 8” never quite delivers the danger or excitement promised by the score from Daniel Pemberton (“Molly’s Game”). (If you want a heist movie with actual stakes or suspense, skip the “Ocean’s” series and go dig up “Rififi” on FilmStruck.)
Cinematographer Eigil Bryld (“In Bruges”) gives the proceedings the high-gloss of a SkyMall catalog, which is appropriate for a movie about robbing a legendary Cartier necklace at fashion’s most exclusive event. (Zac Posen, Heidi Klum, Anna Wintour and a host of other real-life Met Gala attendees pop in to cameo as themselves.) And between the sheen and the talented performers, “Ocean’s 8” does eventually coast on froth and good will.
What it doesn’t do is live up to the big score that this crew might have pulled off under better supervision.